We’re All Stupid Smart Americans

image - Flickr / Luigi Anzivino
image – Flickr / Luigi Anzivino

There’s a lot of people stressed out about Americans being bad at math.

I don’t know why. When is the last time someone used math to make the world better?

I’m sure there are people doing it every day… I just don’t know any of them. (But I’m also not talking about engineering math… engineers I know use basic physics, not award-winning math.)

French people make me suspicious. Not for any reason except for they are so damn attractive. Their language ignites uncontrollable, unaimed desire. They are aesthetically the most wonderful people I can think of. When I asked a beautiful French girl why she was smoking a cigarette:

“What better way to pass the time?”

Then she took a drag and blew it out. I’ve never seen boredom look so good. Or an absurdity make so much sense.

Anyway, I’m reading Capital by a French economist, it’s a big book and I’m nervous about it. Not just because it’s big, but because it’s a French economist… I just opened a dead Frenchman’s book about America to a random page literally twenty minutes ago.

It has to do with being bad at math.

From Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America:

The European sailor ventures upon the open seas with caution, setting sail only in suitable weather; if any unexpected accident occurs, he returns to port; at night he furls some of his sails and when he sees the whitening crests of the waves on the approach of land, he slows his speed and takes an observation of the sun.

The American disregards these precautions and braves these dangers. He sets sail even as the storm is still rumbling; by night as by day, he spreads all his sails to the wind; he repairs any storm damage sustained by his ship as he goes along and, when at last he nears the end of his journey, he continues to fly toward the coast as if he could already see the harbor.

The American is often shipwrecked but no other sailor crosses the seas as swiftly as he does. By achieving the same things as any one else in less time, he does so at less expense.

Ah! American recklessness. We don’t wait for the fate to bring us calm waters. We don’t stop to look around. We’re stupid.

Sometimes stupidity is smarter than being “smart”.

A century later the Wright Bros. built an airplane before anybody else with less money. How? The same spirit of aimed recklessness. They beat out corporations with millions of dollars (they had a few thousand) because they crashed more often, and therefore learned more quickly.

This American spirit is still alive and well in Silicon Valley. (Recklessness is only good if you are being reckless with your own self/resources. Wall Street is reckless with your money, but doesn’t share the upside with you. That’s some BS.)

It’s not about IQ or being right more often. It’s about trying and not being a bitch when it doesn’t work out.

It’s not about being better at following the rules, it’s about knowing them so well you can break them.

It’s not about sounding impressive, it’s about making shit happen.

It’s not about being right, it’s about finding what works (and, more often, what doesn’t).

It’s not about making it unscathed, it’s about learning from scars.

It’s not about being agreeable, it’s about being you.

It’s about being bad at math and figuring it out anyway.

It’s an American thing, and I hope we remember that it’s okay to be proud of that. TC mark

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